Megan Rapinoe saved her best for first (on the field) and last (in her postgame TV interview).
Christen Press was pretty amazing, too. We’ll get to her audacious goal in a moment.
Rapinoe’s excellence first surfaced in the seventh minute of the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s 3-1 victory over Japan on Wednesday in the final round of the SheBelieves Cup in Frisco, Texas – an outcome that clinched the championship trophy and extended the top-ranked squad’s unbeaten streak to 31.
From 25 yards, the 2019 World Cup star delivered a masterstroke of a goal. She lifted the free kick over the wall and into the top left corner to shatter a scoreless affair and begin the march to a 10th consecutive victory.
About two hours later, following the awards ceremony at sold-out Toyota Stadium, ESPN’s Sebastian Salazar and Julie Foudy asked Rapinoe about the U.S. Soccer Federation’s legal filings that say the men’s national team players possess more “skill” and “responsibility” than their female counterparts.
At that moment, as fans chanted, “Equal pay!” behind her, Rapinoe could not have known that USSF President Carlos Cordeiro had issued an apology as the match ended.
Unlike Saturday – when on the eve of the U.S.-Spain showdown Cordeiro claimed the women’s players had refused to negotiate a settlement in their gender discrimination suit – Cordeiro said he regretted the language used in the legal filings.
“The team was very upset, obviously,” Rapinoe said on ESPNews. “We had sort of felt those were the certain undercurrent feelings they have had for a long time, but to see that as the argument, a sort of blatant misogyny and sexism as the argument against us is really disappointing.
“I just want to say, it’s all false. To every girl out there, to every boy out there, who watches this team, who wants to be on this team or just wants to live their dream out, you are not lesser just because you are a girl. You are not better just because you’re a boy. We are all created equal and should all have the equal opportunity to go out and pursue our dreams.
“And for us, that means playing on the soccer field, so everything that was in that deposition of what they said in the argument is not true. Don’t ever believe that.”
Since the women’s fight against the federation began several years ago – over playing on artificial turf, financial compensation and other issues – Rapinoe has shown her mettle on the field and away from it.
No doubt, she had a big say in the decision before Wednesday’s match to wear warm-up jerseys inside out, leaving the USSF emblem facing inward.
She plays with confidence and conviction, and she speaks with it, as well. She does not bow to the president of the federation or the country.
Though she has alienated many fans, Rapinoe has galvanized and inspired more. During pregame introductions, no one receives a louder ovation.
After matches, hers is the most-sought autograph, though in the days of coronavirus, these fan-friendly players are not interacting with admirers as much as they usually do.
Rapinoe also played a part in the second U.S. goal, intercepting the goalkeeper’s poor clearance and supplying Press at the top of the penalty area in the 26th minute.
Six days after scoring a magnificent goal from distance against England, the part-time starter chipped the ball over the keeper with perfect weight and dropped it into the net for her ninth goal in her past 10 appearances.
Press also assisted on Julie Ertz’s late winning goal against Spain on Sunday.
After Japan halved the margin, Lindsey Horan ended the suspense in the 83rd minute by heading in Mallory Pugh’s corner kick.
As for Rapinoe, this summer offers the opportunity for a second Olympic gold medal – and probably her last major tournament after 14 years of national team service. The next World Cup is more than three years away, and despite sensational moments such as Wednesday’s, her best days are behind her.
Wednesday, though, reminded us what she has meant to this exceptional team and to the women’s game at large.